First practice days leave question mark on Bassmaster Classic

Final practice day will be crucial, Elite Series pros say.

Contenders for the 2012 Bassmaster Classic title hit the water on Friday for the first three days of practice for the championship event, but changing temperatures and heavy rainfalls left the anglers scratching their heads.

At least that’s how South Carolina’s Davy Hite and North Carolina’s Dustin Wilks felt.“It was cold and muddy,” said Wilks, a five-time Classic contender. “They call it the Red River for a reason.”

The roiling, muddy water caused by rains pushed into the backwaters from which everyone agrees the tournament will be won, and falling air temperatures pushed water temps to 50 degrees.

“I don’t think I found the winning pattern, but it helped to ride around and see how the backwaters changed,” Hite, the 1999 Classic champion, said.

Wilks said he was left completely unsure about what to do with only tomorrow’s final practice day left before competition begins on Friday.

“I lost confidence in some areas that I know the fish come to, so I don’t know if I didn’t hurt myself in that respect,” he said. “I almost think a guy who didn’t practice might have an edge.”

Even those who might have caught a few fish over the weekend are probably back to square one during the final practice day on Wednesday.

“There could have been some people who found a group of fish in a ditch or something, but those fish will probably leave by the time the tournament starts,” Wilks said.

The reason is simple: The weather is warming up, so fish that in all likelihood were shallow during recent warm-weather spells are just waiting for the chance to head into the backwaters again.

And both of the Bassmaster Elite Series pros said it’s likely the river will fish very small.

“When you have to get in those backwaters, it fishes small,” Hite said.

The muddy conditions will probably exaggerate that problem, Wilks said.

“Places that in 2009 were real clean were muddy,” he said. “Now we’ve got cold, muddy water rolling down the river, so everybody is fishing the same small places.”

Tomorrow is the final practice day, and it’s going to be vital that the Classic contenders pick up a strategy quickly.

But Wilks said he thinks practice might extend into the first day of competition.

“With the way practice went, I’m thinking there’s going to be a luck involved,” Wilks said. “You’re going to have to find a spot where fish will move to you.”

And there’s precedent for that on the Red River.

“That’s kind of how Skeet (Reese) won it in 2009,” Wilks said. “I don’t think he had a particularly good practice: He found a ridge (during competition) and the fish moved to him.

“He fished that ridge the entire tournament.”

What absolutely won’t work is jumping from spot to spot to spot because of the way the river lays out, Wilks said.

“You can’t run and gun on this river because it takes so long to get in and out of areas,” he said. “At the most you can fish two areas.

“You have to pick right right off the bat.”

The angler who comes out on top likely will key on some things other anglers miss.

Wilks said he thinks it could be won exactly as the first Red River Classic.

“I think it’s going to be key to establishing a confidence spot,” he said. “It comes down to claiming a little area, establishing a little zone where the fish are coming back and forth, and hoping the other guys don’t come through it.”

Hite said the tight quarters will mean the competitor who finds a unique strategy will have an edge.

“I think the real key is fishing a bait that those fish are keying on and maybe the other competitors around you aren’t using,” he explained.

And Hite and Wilks agreed that being able to ignore pressure from other anglers will be crucial.

“You have to mentally tough to be able to grind it out,” Hite said.

Keep up with all the Bassmaster Classic news, check out the competitor, watch videos and (once competition begins) see daily leaderboards on the dedicated Classic Updates page.

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Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.